On April 26th, 1986, reactor four at Chernobyl nuclear power station explodes, sending an enormous radioactive cloud over Northern Ukraine and neighbouring Belarus. The danger is kept a secret from the rest of the world and the nearby population who go about their business as usual. May Day celebrations begin, children play and the residents of Pripyat marvel at the spectacular fire raging at the reactor. After three days, an area the size of England becomes contaminated with radioactive dust, creating a 'zone' of poisoned land.
A rare British made documentary from the Channel 4 international documentry thread, True Stories,Heavy Water: A Film for Chernobyl is based upon Mario Petrucci's award winning book length poem, 'Heavy Water'. It tells the story of the people who dealt with the disaster at ground-level: the fire-fighters, soldiers, 'liquidators', and their families. The film is set apart from other Chernobyl documentaries due to the absence of facts and narration. Instead it uses Petrucci’s poetry to tell its story against a backdrop of somber, methodical music which integrates perfectly with haunting images from the modern Exclusion Zone.
Stock film from the days immediately following the accident is interwoven with present day images of the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant, the countryside, scattered villages and Pripyat, the city that used to be home for the plant workers. This approach blends well with individual verses read throughout the film.
The poetry itself is derived from eyewitness accounts, providing a more personal experience for the viewer. While sad, the verses do bring the dirty, abandoned buildings and lonely landscapes back to life. This is in no small part due to the quality of the reading which is variously by David Bickerstaff, Francine Brody, Juliet Stevenson, David Threlfall and Samuel West.